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Thursday, 11 April 2013 06:57

David Kuo, Faith-Based Initiative Whistle Blower, Dies at 44

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KuoObitFINALLast week, David Kuo died at age 44, after almost ten years of battling a brain tumor. Although he wasn't a household name, Kuo was a major player in the Bush Administration's Faith-Based Initiative who after leaving the administration wrote a book blowing the lid off the administration's faith-based shenanigans.

Kuo's 2006 book, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, revealed how the Bush Administration politicized the Faith-Based Initiative. Amongst the provocative revelations were; how the Bush White House took every opportunity to politicize the initiative, how ideologically-minded officials frequently rejected applications for federal faith-based funds because they came from non-Christian applicants, how administration operatives mocked and ridiculed leaders of the Christian Right, and how the very essence of the initiative's charge to help the poor was reduced to platitudes.

Kuo served in the White House Office for three years (resigning in December 2003 after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, giving him, by his own account, perhaps five or 10 years to live) and having been fully involved in the evolution of the faith-based initiative from its inception as the highly touted compassionate conservative centerpiece of the president's domestic agenda to its current status as under-funded afterthought.

Prior to joining the Bush Administration, Kuo's resume included working for the National Right to Life Committee and the CIA, writing speeches for former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed and the Rev. Pat Robertson, and stints with such top-shelf conservatives as William Bennett, John Ashcroft, Bob Dole, and Congressman J.C. Watts.

After the publication of his book, Kuo told Leslie Stahl of "60 Minutes" that words like "nuts" and "goofy" was thrown around by White House staffers when talking about evangelicals: They referred to Pat Robertson as "insane," Jerry Falwell as "ridiculous," and James Dobson as having "to be controlled."

In a 2006 article titled "Faith-Based Confidential," I pointed out that Kuo maintained "that the GOP has convinced Christian leaders 'that Jesus came primarily for a political agenda, and recently primarily a right-wing political agenda -- as if this culture war is a war for God. And it's not a war for God, it's a war for politics. And that's a huge difference.'

"Kuo pointed out that 'God and politics had become very much fused together into a sort of a single entity. Where, in a way, politics was the fourth part of the trinity. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and God the politician.'

"'I feel like it was more spiritually wrong. You're taking the sacred and you're making it profane. You're taking Jesus and reducing him to some precinct captain, to some get-out-the-vote guy.' Kuo added, '[T]he name of God is just being destroyed in the name of politics.'"

In an appearance with television talk-show host Tavis Smiley, Kuo said that his book was "an intensely personal political and spiritual memoir" that was about his own experience: "About growing up in a home where my mom, who is a descendent of Jefferson Davis, worked on an interracial Christian commune in the 1950s. I grew up with the passion in my heart for the poor and for civil rights."

At the time, Kuo told the Washington Post that "I feel a pressing spiritual need to say what I think is important. And I really think that what is important is to be able to warn Christians about politics, that they should not throw so much at politics, because they're being used, and it will not answer the problems, and it corrupts the name of the God we're trying to serve."

After the book's publication, Team Bush and its surrogates went on the attack: Some were satisfied to call Kuo "naïve," others were more vitriolic; one conservative branded him an "addition to the axis of evil."

"I feel sorry for him, because once you do something like this, you get your 15 minutes in the spotlight, but then after that nobody will touch you," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told The Washington Post. "These kiss-and-tell books do more damage to the author than to the people they attack."

James Dobson, then of Focus on the Family, called Kuo's book "a mix of sour grapes and political timing." The late Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship said he was "shocked and disappointed by what appears to be political timing to sell a book, and a very unfair characterization of the parties involved."

As Americans United's Rob Boston recently pointed out, "Kuo was a man who wanted to do some good for the country by assisting those most in need: the poor. When he saw that the faith-based initiative wasn't about that, he blew the whistle."

He "had more integrity in his little finger than the leaders of the Religious Right have in their entire bodies. His early death is tragic, and he will be missed."

(Photo: New York Times)